Sunday, February 26, 2006

The price of democracy

The price of a democratic society is often unpalatably high - in terms of what society pay must to preserve it and in terms of what some societies will demand of their citizens to exercise it.

Two instances of this have come to mind over the past few days. The first was a story in the NY Times (registration required) in respect of mounting fees which States levy on former criminals in order to regain their franchise, lost at the time of their conviction. Those few of the poor that bother to vote are now denied it both by their punishment which in turn becomes a "life sentence" as they are too poor to discharge the fees levied. These States are not just the usual suspects like Georgia but so-called blue states like Connecticut.

The fees seem to be small, $30 here, $15 there but added together come to thousands of dollars. I consider it dangerous to withdraw the franchise for prisoners - any group without a franchise or unable to exercise it is a group which will encounter dire treatment from politicians, to which the mentally disabled can often attest. For the franchise to be withdrawn for a civil debt is surely counterproductive in rehabilitating criminals - but then the people who propose such laws do not seek rehabilitation but humiliation.

The second was of course, the Dublin riots. Needless to say, Indymedia blames the Guards. What a shock. The Guards are on the back foot from their hopeless handling of the May Day riots four years ago - water cannon not batons would have been the answer and killed two birds with one stone so to speak, some Indymedia writers would have been sweeter smelling for it. As for the Garda tactical deployment on Saturday, obviously they preferred to avoid a Garvaghy Road lining the streets operation but instead hoping to lie in reserve and keep it low key. It certainly would have been preferable to ask the Love Ulster folks not to come on a home Six Nations weekend when policing is stretched as it is. I suppose the last time there was this much rubble in O'Connell Street (apart from LUAS) was when republicans blew up Admiral Nelson in '66.

The principal problem here is that we all thought "Republican Sinn Fein" was a historical oddity by now with a few jeremiahs crying in the wilderness. Instead they seem to be plugging into the deprived/work-shy (you pick) neighbourhoods which ironically were Sinn Fein's springboard over Labour when they went champagne socialist. Here's the wake-up call.

Some bloggers have come up with variants of "she was asking for it", an excuse I thought was last successful in an Italian court and even then it was overturned. United Islander is running a poll as to "in hindsight should the march have gone ahead?" (currently 43% yes 57% no), failing to say on what grounds the government would have prohibited it beyond "we can't protect people from exercising their democratic right to protest". If the government yielded on that ground then other minority groups between start worrying about their right to protest. As Chris Rock puts it "that train is never late". Comparing the Love Ulster crew to Nazis in Jerusalem or KKKs in Alabama, as an interviewee did here, misses the point that short of ethnic cleansing the prospect of a united Ireland means having to face the reality of equal right to protest for all "Irish" people. Best not give them ideas I suppose.

This is our "Denmark Cartoon", and if Ireland wants to pass it then next Saturday Love Ulster should be asked to return, protected by the police and the army as necessary, and every Saturday after that until such time as the parade gets to wherever the hell it wants to go. I don't care that FAIR isn't fair, that it's sectarian, this is indeed Ireland's test and so far we have failed it. To paraphrase a tagline from a local cough medicine - democracy tastes awful but it works.

Final thoughts - can't help but wonder that with the PD party offices being targetted in the riots if some republicans aren't muttering "Reichstag fire" with this protest coming very soon after the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis called for the repeal of the Offences against the State Act and the robust response likely from Michael McDowell. The real error was of course bashing Charlie Bird - obviously these scobes are too young to remember Veronica Guerin. If you want to get repression in this country, bash a pol. If you want to get Stalinism, bash a journo. Expect the ID card train to start pulling out of the station any minute.
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